Rabbi Miriam's Blog
From Rabbinic Fellow Dov Gottesfeld
And G-d spoke to Abram: "Go you from your land, from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you. I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you and make great your name and all families of the earth will be blessed by you..." (Leh Leha Genesis 12:1-2).
There is no doubt in my mind that every Jew (and even non-Jews) would jump on (change to “at”) that offer; especially because there are no strings attached – God doesn’t demand anything in return from Abram. Strangely enough, Abram doesn’t inquire by asking God: “Why me?” Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as RaMBaM (12th Century) and one of history's foremost rabbis, explains it in his book Mishneh Torah, Laws Concerning Idol Worship 1:3” that “At the age of forty, Abraham recognized his Creator” ... He began to debate with the people of Ur Casdim and take them to task, saying: "This is not the way of truth that you are following." He smashed the idols and began to teach the people that it is only fitting to serve the One G-d ... When he began to defeat them with his arguments, the king wished to kill him; he was miraculously saved. He departed to Haran and continued to call in a great voice to the world, teaching them that there is One G-d.”
On a closer read, however, there seems to be one “string” attached. This encounter with G-d begins with a command: “ לֶךְ לְךָ , lit. go to you” or “get out of here […] to the land that I will show you.” Abram, at least could have asked: “G-d, why not here?” Rashi (The 11th century Jewish scholar, who is quoted the most) picks up on it and writes: Go forth: Heb. לֶךְ לְךָ , lit. go to you, for your benefit and for your good, and there I will make you into a great nation, but here, you will not merit to have children. Moreover, I will make your character known in the world. — [from Rosh Hashanah 16b, Tan.]
Well, I’m glad he did, because we Jews live the outcome of Abram’s journey.
3825 years later, I posed a similar promise, which G-d made to Abram, to my second year high school students. The difference, however, is that I made it under comparable circumstances with respect to their current culture and environment. I instructed them to do the following: “Think of a grand goal that you would like to accomplish for yourselves in the future -- for your benefit and for the benefit of humanity. It should be a goal that would also require a real miracle for you to achieve it.”
Once the goals were set in their minds, I proceeded: “Now imagine that you hear the voice of G-d telling you that He would make sure that you will accomplish your ‘grand goal’ if you leave your home immediately, and go to a non-disclosed place which he will show you, where your ‘grand goal’ would materialize. (G-d, of course, will provide you with all the necessities of survival till then, and it might take some years).” Then I asked the students to raise their hands so we could see how many would subscribe to that offer. A total of a little over ninety percent of the students, male and female, raised their hands. After analyzing the “promise” as a ‘contract’, the students agreed that it was a totally unbalanced agreement, because they had no ‘responsibilities’ and/or ‘commitments’, except for leaving their homes. There was a loud and argumentative debate. I, therefore, added to that ‘promise’ a clause: “It would happen to you only “if you keep the commandments of the Lord your G-d and walk in His ways.” (Deuteronomy 28:9).
Again, there were arguments across the aisles. The next show of hands dropped down considerably, to less than thirty percent, with about half of the students swinging their hands – back and forth in the air to indicate: ”But, maybe not all of the commandments”. Only then, we read and discussed the story of Abram, his total trust in G-d, his sacrifices, pain and the turmoil that he had to endure in his life in order to be qualified to be called AbraHam and rise to the occasion, as G-d had promised him.
When the school bell rang the students filed out of class, most of them with their heads down – obviously thinking and wondering about the lesson they have just learned about themselves. When the last student exited and the door slammed shut with a thud, I remained standing, assessing the outcome of the lesson. The following phrase from Kings I 19:11-13 popped into my mind, and summed it up: “[…] And lo, the Lord passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind – an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake – fire ; but the Lord was not in the fire. And After the fire – a still and small voice. When Elijah heard it, he
wrapped his mantle about his face […].
I, then, began to wonder who would lead us and speak for us (Jews) in the
Ahavat Torah of West Los Angeles
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.